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BROKEN 'HEARTS' CLUB: Fireball discontinued
by Andrew Davis

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Fireball is no more.

In a press release, The Hearts Foundation—the organization that sponsored the annual fundraiser—officially pulled the plug on the February event. An e-mail from the foundation stated, in part: 'After an eight-year run, the Board has made a business decision that the financial return does not support a justifiable reason to continue with the Fireball Festival.'

The foundation went on to thank individuals for their 'financial and personal support.'

The foundation cited waning support and increasing production costs as factors that influenced their decision. 'It is common knowledge that attendance and support of the Fireball Festival has been on the decline in the past several years,' the release stated. 'At the same time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the cost of producing the event, not to mention the increased liability that comes with hosting a Festival the size and scope of Fireball.'

Financial documents obtained by Windy City Times would seem to support the financial claim. For the fiscal year ( FY ) that ended June 30, 2004, The Hearts Foundation claimed income of $433,828—and year-end assets of $9,924. ( For FY 2003, the numbers were $171,969 and $2,947, respectively. ) For FY 2004, $396,311 of the $433,828 went toward events, leaving $37,517 in net assets; $30,000 of that then went to HIV/AIDS non-profit organizations. ( For FY 2003, $72,595 went to those groups. ) As for where the $396,311 went, the money was allocated on everything from 'sound and visuals' ( $93,960 ) to 'fundraising-events' ( $113,211 ) to 'professional fees' ( $16,889 ) .

According to its press release, the Hearts Foundation raised and distributed 'in excess of $1 million' to various Chicagoland HIV/AIDS agencies between 1998 and 2004.

However, the statement also noted that 'Fireball 2005 did not produce a financial return that would have enabled [ the foundation ] to continue ... funding local agencies that perform the much needed direct work in the fight against HIV/AIDS.' ( According to the foundation's Web site, some of the potential 2005 grantees included Chicago House, Test Positive Aware Network, AIDS Legal Counsel, Vital Bridges and Heartland Alliance. ) If the foundation could not turn a profit that would benefit agencies, that development would directly conflict with the group's mission of supporting those organizations.

The foundation seemed convinced earlier this year that things were running more smoothly.

Scott Silverman, the organization's secretary, told Windy City Times in an interview published April 13 that ' [ t ] he fundraising [ results ] last year were less than what we anticipated. That should not have happened. We spent too much on our gala. The funds would've been allocated better if there had been more financial control—and that problem has been resolved.'

Although the stated intention of Fireball garnered applause in some circles when it was initially announced, the event came under increasing fire in recent years. From the beginning, some stated, the circuit party was a three-day hedonistic scene of sex and drugs. ( In fact, one citizen told Windy City Times 'It's about time' when informed of the event's cancellation. )

However, in the April interview Silverman stated that ' [ i ] t's very easy for [ someone ] to say 'Fireball causes drug abuse.' The drugs are already out there. It's too easy for people to point their fingers at us; we're not the villains. However, the one thing that I'm grateful for is that people are talking about crystal meth abuse.'

In addition, foundation board member Nenad Markovich talked about partying responsibly in a Feb. 23 Windy City Times article, saying that 'we have to educate the public that they can party without having a 'party.''

The foundation denied that the decision to cancel Fireball was related to criticism regarding drugs.

Rev. Stan Sloan, CEO of Chicago House, told Windy City Times that he felt the event had simply run its course. 'We at Chicago House have seen many events—like AIDS Ride—serve their lifetimes,' he said. 'If you look at Fireball over the years, it's definitely been a help to the HIV/AIDS community; however, you can't give what you don't have.' He also agreed with Silverman's assertion regarding drugs, adding that 'the whole crystal meth thing is so much bigger than circuit parties. I think the guys on the board of the Hearts Foundation were all well-intended. I'm sorry about everything that's happened, including what's happened to Mike Jackson. It's too easy ... to just look at just one group and try to pinpoint [ things ] .'

The folding of Fireball does not mean the end of the foundation, however. The release also stated that the foundation will remain an Illinois not-for-profit organization.

'Fireball is an event and Hearts Foundation is an organization, so the organization will continue on but the event won't continue any longer,' organization president Dennis Sneyers told Windy City Times.

So could this mean that another fundraiser will replace Fireball? 'We haven't made any decision yet regarding what we are going to do,' said Sneyers, who later indicated that something will probably take the event's place. 'It was a good decision [ to cancel Fireball ] , but it was heartfelt.'

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